What makes each person different? What makes us who we are, and what factors are responsible for our unique, individual personality traits?
In a TED Talk entitled “Who are you, Really? The Puzzle of Personality,” Cambridge University Professor Brian Little theorizes that there are five dimensions that help explain aspects of personality differences between people. Dr. Little uses the acronym OCEAN to help explain those personality traits as follows:
O – Some individuals may be open and willing to try new experiences, while others may be more hesitant.
C – People may be conscientiousness and lead highly structured lives, or they may be more lackadaisical.
E – People are either extroverts or introverts. Introverts , who require quiet spaces and a lower level of stimulation, are often misunderstood as being anti-social.
A - Some individuals are agreeable, while other personality types tend to be more disagreeable. While agreeable people work well in teams, their agreeability may get them into trouble when they have difficulty saying no and become overloaded with responsibilities.
N - People may be neurotic or stable.
Personality Traits: We’re more than our Idiosyncracies
Although the five dimensions help explain the differences between individual personalities, Dr. Little stresses that humans are more than just a list of traits, and that it’s dangerous to attempt to force people into predetermined slots. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to human beings, he says.
Dr. Little explains that what truly makes us unique is our personal, core projects – the everyday passions and missions that influence the course of our lives — how we relate to our children, our families, our interests, or our careers.
When we begin to understand the concept of individual core projects, we can see people in a different light and are able to treat other people as fellow human beings with individual projects, Dr Little says. Successful leaders understand the importance of personality differences and are able to use the knowledge wisely.
We may transcend our personality traits, Dr. Little says, as it is often necessary to make adaptations and act out of character in order to advance our core projects. However, he says that we may pay a price when we act against our natures for extended lengths of time.
For example, Dr. Little explains that his core project is teaching, which frequently requires him to step outside his natural personality traits. Dr. Little, who describes himself as “about as introverted as you can get,” immediately seeks quiet and respite after speaking to large groups of people.
In some cases, acting against our natural personality inclinations is so stressful that we may turn to drugs and alcohol or other addictions to cope with the resulting anxiety or depression. If this sounds like you, don’t hesitate to seek drug and alcohol treatment or rehab, which can help you learn to honor your natural personality traits and accommodate your personal core projects.
You can view Dr. Little’s TED Talk here: https://blog.ted.com/brian-little-speaks-on-personality-at-ted2016/ Dr. Little is also author of Me, Myself and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being.